Making the decision to hire an outside agency to work with you and your team on social media is an important move. Whether you’ve made the decision to hire an agency or consultant to handle all of your social media marketing or certain pieces of it, the decision shouldn’t be made lightly. Social media is such an important part of your brand that you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t do your homework in checking out their credentials. Social media is still a wide open field and you can encounter consultants who have been practicing for 3 months or creative agencies who’ve just added it to their offerings because their clients have commanded it. I’m not saying that they’re wrong for you, but you need to look for a few things before you allow them to handle this very important component of your business.
1. Participation: This is one of the most critical things to look for. Is the agency or consultant actually an ACTIVE participant in social networks themselves? Dig around and check! Are they on Twitter? If so, how often are they tweeting and is the content relevant? Do they have a Facebook business page with engaging content on it? I am astounded by the number of companies who proclaim their expertise in a field that they don’t even participate in. How can you expect them to lead you to success if they don’t practice what they preach?
2. References/Portfolio: Due to confidentiality policies, most agencies can’t tell you everyone they’ve worked with, however, they should be able to show you at least a few examples. Whether it’s a former client or a client who has given permission, ask to see work that they have done. They should be able to give you some details of what the project consisted of and the successes they had.
3. Education: Social media is constantly changing. Almost 2 years ago, I installed this fun little app called Instagram that hardly anyone was using. Today it’s one of the hottest things next to Pinterest, which was also an unknown player 18 months ago. What conferences and training does the agency or consultant participate in? There is not a traditional “school” for social media right now, so in order to stay at the top of my game, I am constantly reading, watching and learning from leaders in my industry as well as experimenting with each new network, application and helper tool that comes along.
4. Quality -v- Quantity: Here’s a secret – having 20,000 followers on Twitter and 15,000 “likes” on Facebook doesn’t mean a thing if there is no interaction between your followers and your company. Beware of the person who promises you huge numbers in a short amount of time, unless you are willing to pay a pretty penny for ads and other number-driving campaigns. Building a big fan base takes time and a lot of hard work. I would rather have a smaller number of truly engaged people commenting on posts and retweeting my content than a huge number that doesn’t participate at all. I know of some agencies who use less-than-honest methods for that quick boost of numbers and Facebook has recently uncovered a large amount of “fake” fans on pages and is in the process of removing them.
5. Content: Good content is the Lord of social media. It’s what grows your numbers the fastest. Is the person who will be handling your content creation creative? Do they know and understand the nature of your business? Do they speak in your company’s voice? Ask to see samples of their work. They should be able to produce samples without divulging who their client is/was. Are they professional? Do they check their facts? Do they know the rules of the game? Every site has rules governing what you can and cannot post. Content is the most important piece of your strategy and should be thoroughly examined before choosing a firm. Anyone can push out a message – only a true professional can generate engaging content.
6. Reports and Analytics: Social media professionals must be able to provide you with reports and analytics. We provide a monthly report to our clients that showcases the achievements of their accounts. Among other metrics, it shows them where their numbers started and what we closed with. It shows which messages had the biggest impact and which messages may have caused us to lose some fans. I discuss it with them and we make changes and fine tune for the next month. If you aren’t getting these, how do you know if what you and the agency are doing is effective?
7. Crisis Plans: This is an often- overlooked piece. What happens if there’s a rogue tweet or a Facebook post that’s blatantly incorrect? If you’re Papa Johns and your agency posts that the first 1,000 people get free pizzas tomorrow, that could cause a bit of an issue. Ask what their crisis management plan is. How will they handle unfavorable comments or negative posts? It’s like the old saying – anyone can steer the boat in calm waters.
8. Community Management: How does the agency engage with your clients and customers? If they’re of the “set it and forget it” mentality, move along. How many accounts does the community manager handle? Take it from me – even 4 or 5 is a lot to handle, even for the most experienced manager. Developing and maintaining a community takes a lot of time. Make sure that your account has the proper priority that you’re paying for.
9. Strategy: Strategy is more than a buzz word that we throw around. In order to have any success in the social media game, you need to have a strategy. Where do you want to be, how do you get there and what is your deadline are just the tip of the iceberg.
10. Who’s Managing Your Account: You should know who your voice will be. Is it the owner of the company, the leader of the department, an associate or an intern? Many agencies do not have an actual social media person on staff when they tell you that they can “do” your social media marketing. They convince you that they can and once they’ve won the business, hire a fresh face as their social media person. You may think that a recent college graduate would be a great fit – they’re young and up on the latest trends, right? Not necessarily. This is more than just pushing out a status update or a tweet or pinning something to a board. If you wouldn’t hire them to represent your company in front of stakeholders, why would you want them to be the voice behind your message?
Social media is still a bit of the wild west and a lot of people and companies are jumping in the game because they think that it’s a huge boon for their business. I cannot stress enough the importance of checking out anyone you would partner with or engage to be the social media voice of your company. If you make a bad choice, it can often take months to realize it and make the move to someone new.